Church-going and Me: First Visit to the Church of Ireland

I went to my first Anglican service this week.  A friend of mine is a member of the Church of Ireland and I attended a Sunday morning service with her.  I was very excited to be going.   Church-going isn’t part of my life. My reflections on this are as much about church going as they are about the Church of Ireland service. There is an element for me in this of holding a mature, self-aware relationship with the Churches. As a child, the Catholic church was spirituality. The Church of Ireland didn’t exist for me and when I did discover it through the history books it was coloured and skewed by the politics of Irish history. As an adult, I can see those stories as stories. I do not have to buy them wholesale.

The space in the church was very welcoming. There were lots of smiles and the congregation seemed very involved in the space.  A woman rang the bell five minutes before service was due to start. When we entered a man handed us the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal. Coming from a Roman Catholic upbringing, both of these were new to me.  In Roman Catholic churches there is a leaflet with the words for today’s service.  If you’re very devout you might have your missal that you received at your Confirmation with the three year liturgical cycle in it. I’m sure mine is with my parents. It would be interesting to go to church with it.

One of the things I really liked about the service was the wording in the book of prayer. It was very clear.  I had a sense that words were your friend, not the enemy of the mystical.

(I feel like putting an aside here saying that while I really like a lot of Christian wordings, one of the things that really puts me off is the Nicene Crede that is common to most of the large Christian faiths of the West.  I don’t agree with everything in it and it essentially says that this is what you must believe to be Christian.  Again, there is the notion of firm belief that I have issues with.  I spoke with a workmate recently about how she didn’t take her children to mass and she felt like she might be a bad Catholic.  We spoke then about how it was important for her children to grow up to be good people, not good Catholics.)

Things I noticed and liked about the Church of Ireland service:

– When the Creed was said, the ministers turned and faced the same way as the congregation.

– The ministers felt like part of the congregation. They only went behind the altar for the blessing of the communion.

– I liked the prayer after communion, thanking God for spiritual food.

– The singing is great. Protestants routinely trump Catholics on this front. Not that it’s a points game or anything.

– At the start of the sermon, the minister ritually asked if he could speak in the name of the Trinity.  That impressed me.

– The sermon was very well thought out.  I appreciate a good talk.  The gospel was about Thomas and the wounds of Christ. The sermon drew on that and spoke about how the wounds of Christ had their own deeper meanings in the middle ages. People contemplated the wounds. Churches were built to acknowledge the wounds. The church we sat in is eight hundred years old and was designed with a knave in the North to represent the wound in Christ’s side. I’d actually go back just to hear another of those Sermons. It was very thought-provoking. I think I’ll write to the minister and tell him that.

I am aware that I enjoyed the service in somewhat the same way that I enjoy travel. In new places even the way the bins are collected is new and strange and worth noticing. With a travelling eye, everything is beautiful and new.

I noticed in myself how nice it was to go to a sacred space that existed outside of my own practice. In my practice I build sacred space for ritual by marking it with a circle and prayers. It was nice to go to a collective and community space. It was easy.  I felt the same when I would dance 5Rhythms weekly. The space I entered was held by someone else. It was honoured by a community of people. I miss that in my life. I wondered during this C. of I. ritual if there were some way I could incorporate a community ritual into my own life.  Could I just go to the different ceremonies of all the different churches? Why not?

A spiritual practice has many different sides.  My own practice of personal development is one strand.  There I build my relationship with the divine through my senses and my will.  I surrender to the world. But what about the Tribe? What about community? Wouldn’t it be lovely if there were frequent inter-faith ceremonies where the whole community had the chance to be together in sacred space. I don’t think all ceremonies should be interfaith. Working deeply within a single tradition is very powerful and I think that should be honoured, deepened and widened. However, I miss the collective sometimes. The whole community and the fullness of the spirit of place. The elderly and the young of all traditions simply Being together.

One thing that this has raised strongly with me is the desire for spiritual community.  While I was sitting in the church listening to the words and songs, I thought ‘this could be nice’. It isn’t what I’m looking for though.  When I lived in Edinburgh I used to go to weekly 5rhythms classes. That felt like a community of souls. That wasn’t fully it either though.  There are elements of the Anglican service that I really really liked. I liked the ritual of stepping into a space that is dedicated for worship.  What doesn’t work for me is the way in which faith and practice are delivered rather than discovered. My spiritual path will always be a beautiful patchwork. My various needs for sacred space and personal growth will continue to be met in different ways and at different times.

It is the aspect of an open and accepting community of place and tribe being together that I miss in my life. I am from a rural Irish background and the local church is important to life. If you’re not a pub goer the church is where you meet others. I am acutely aware that not everyone is on a quest to explore life and the mystery in the same way. For many people an institution that is there for them when they need is perfect.  Surely there must be a middle ground that we can all share.

In writing here I have realised that I have many needs and community space is one of them.  I would love to hear your thoughts on faith spaces.  Are you a church goer? Where do you find that space? If you are a former member of a Church how do you relate to it?

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2 thoughts on “Church-going and Me: First Visit to the Church of Ireland

  1. Lovely writing, Paul. And very much in line with my feelings about spirituality, sacred space, ritual, and community. While individual revelations and growth are absolutely invaluable, there is something to be said about tribe and family. Rites of passage, when supported and acknowledged by kith and kin, can be much more transformative and bolstering to our growth.

    1. Thanks Katrina,
      I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I wrote that post. In the buddhist tradition they talk about the sangha and the dharma. I guess I’m looking for the sangha to share and support the dharmah.

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